Coping with Collective Crisis
For the past week or so, I’ve been struggling with what to say or write as we enter deeper into this challenging time with the coronavirus.
And quite honestly, a lot of that is because I didn’t quite know how I was feeling myself. It has been a rollercoaster of emotions and feelings since the pandemic started. There has been hope and optimism and utter panic and fear.
It’s been hard to wrap my head around it. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way. We’re in uncharted waters and it’s difficult to navigate this and understand where we are in this time and place.
Remembering Another Collective Crisis
As I’ve been searching for how to process my feelings and where we are right now, I was reminded of something that happened in college. The memory came out of nowhere, but I realized there are some striking similarities––both in that this was a collective- crisis with a large group of people and in how I was responding to it.
When I was a sophomore in college, I’ll never forget a snowy night Saturday night in January. I had just grabbed the pizza I had ordered and retreated to the upstairs of my sorority house when I started hearing screaming, crying and wailing.
It wasn’t long before someone came running for me. Leigh, one of our sorority sisters, had died in a car accident that night.
I had just been named president of the chapter a couple of weeks before. As the president of the chapter, I had to quickly snap into action. And it wasn’t long before we had crisis counselors in the sorority house to help more than 100 women process what had just happened.
While all my sorority sisters were crying around me, I was calm, but numb. I was in crisis mode.
In the hours and days that followed, I was on the phone with people from the university and the president of the national sorority. Despite it all, I was fine. Or so I thought.
And then I spoke with Leigh’s parents. Leigh was their only child. It was likely the worst phone call of my life. I still don’t remember much about the conversation. All I know is that we discussed the funeral arrangements and that they asked me to speak at the funeral on behalf of the sorority.
As soon as I hung up the phone, I melted onto the floor in a puddle of tears.
The heaviness of it all finally broke me on that call. I thought I was strong. I thought I had it all together, but my brave face finally cracked wide open.
It was as if my emotions were finally too strong for the dam I had built for them.
How I Typically Respond to Crisis
I don’t know why I do this. I don’t know if I’m built for a crisis or if I somehow have tricked myself into believing that being strong is the only way to cope when things are difficult. I snap into action and “fix it” mode, not realizing that brokenness isn’t always meant to be fixed or just how broken I am as well. Instead, I hide it under the mask of someone who has it all together.
But no matter how hard I try, my emotions eventually catch up with me.
The same has been true with the coronavirus.
As I shared with our Facebook community the other day, I started the quarantine with hopeful optimism. I made lists with the things I wanted to accomplish. I shared things I was grateful for on social media each day. I worked to keep up our regular routine.
Challenges create good opportunities and I was ready.
Or, so I thought.
But after about a week or so into the self-quarantine, I realized the severity of the outbreak was way worse than I imagined. And my plans for how we would spend the time have been dramatically different than what I hoped.
Instead of vast amounts of time to create and explore and enjoy each other as family, we are frantically finding ways to cobble together work and generate an income when we’re not caring for our son.
I started to crumble under the realization that I had to be working every time my child was sleeping. I was able to keep that up for about a week or so before the harsh realization set in that this is not sustainable.
I kept trying to force things into the way they were before the COVID-19 outbreak, but doing so left me utterly exhausted and burned out. I had a headache that lasted for three days straight. My eye was twitching nonstop and I was so tired that I could hardly stand it.
I knew that the way I was approaching this quarantine was not sustainable––especially if we’re going to be doing this for several more weeks. And, by the looks of things, that may very well be the case.
I finally reached my breaking point.
Grieving Normal and Creating a New One
It wasn’t until I was listening to Brené Brown’s new podcast, Unlocking Us, that I finally developed a better understanding of how I am feeling, and quite frankly, how I think most of us are feeling right now.
She said that adrenaline gets us through the immediate danger of a crisis. And during this time, we’re fueled by coming together and doing what needs to be done in those first moments following a catastrophe.
It’s not until the immediate danger is gone, that we realize that our normal lives and the way things were before has been completely ripped away.
If you compare it to a natural disaster, let’s say a flood, you don’t realize the loss of “normal” until the waters have receded. It’s only then that you see the aftermath and realize that your life is forever changed.
Brené went on to say that we are in a place where we both need to “create a new normal and grieve the loss of the old normal at the same time.”
That’s when it hit me, I have been so focused on trying to find and create a new rhythm and mindset, that I’ve not taken a moment to grieve what we’ve lost. What I’ve lost.
Yes, we have a lot to be grateful for.
And yes, I think it makes sense to focus on keeping a positive mindset.
But, if I continue to bottle up the grief and loss of our normal, the crash will be so much harder later.
Trying to ignore it has just left me exhausted. As Brené put it, we’ve collectively hit weary. Everyone is completely maxed out and emotionally depleted.
This isn’t a personal crisis that you carry on your own. This is a crisis that we are all feeling together. And that is overwhelming.
It’s okay to feel that. In fact, I would encourage you to feel that.
As my friend Abby always says to me, “feel your feelings.”
I think that’s something I’m still trying to learn.
So I’m encouraging you (and myself in the process) to acknowledge how you feel. Admit that you might be mad, sad, frustrated, disappointed, scared, anxious or lonely.
It’s not until we allow ourselves to feel these things that we can truly process them and allow ourselves the chance to move forward.
I would encourage you to listen to Brené’s episode on comparative suffering as she goes deeper into some helpful and productive strategies for coping through this.
Letting Go and Building a New Normal
I’m still working on how to grieve the loss of my normal life and work on building a new normal for where we are right now. But, in the past few days, I’ve arrived at a few things that are helping me that might help you too.
1. Create space to feel.
First, I’m giving myself space. Yesterday, after another chunk of my income evaporated, I called my mom and had a good cry. Later that afternoon, when it was my shift to go work, I instead watched some Marco Polo videos of my friends and recorded a video back for them.
For me, just talking about how I was feeling at that moment was a huge help. It was such a relief to just be okay with feeling sad, broken and anxious. For a short while, I set aside my to-do list and just let myself be. I think, for many of us, that might be really important right now.
While I know that we’ll be okay and I’m trusting that God will continue to take care of us, I also just needed to give myself some space to be upset about how things are going and how my life has been impacted.
Because this stuff is hard. Really, really hard.
Even though most of us will be okay, navigating the loss of income, security, safety, connection and normalcy is challenging.
And masking our feelings isn’t going to help. It just makes us stressed out. It showed up in my body in a huge way. And I realize now that I just need to let the feelings flow.
This likely looks different for everyone, but you could try talking to a friend or family member or journaling your thoughts. Both of those are helpful for me.
I also write my prayers down in a journal after reading my morning devotional and that’s one great way for me to acknowledge my feelings and process my thoughts.
Try some different things and find what works for you.
2. Revise your expectations.
The next thing I’m working on is adjusting my expectations. Part of my angst has been that I’ve been expecting myself to create the same level of output in a fraction of the time. Not only is that unfeasible, but it’s going to lead to a severe case of burnout.
I’ve realized that it’s impossible to work at the same level I have been with a toddler at home. And even if that weren’t the case, dealing with the heavy emotional load of this pandemic also takes a toll.
That means, instead of creating a long to-do list that won’t get done, I’m trying to be more mindful about choosing one or two things that I need to accomplish each day.
That way, I’m not constantly beating myself up for falling short.
For me, I know that adjusting my expectations will go a long way to setting myself up for success. It might be the same for you.
3. Give yourself grace.
The other part of the equation is learning to give myself (and my family) heaps and heaps of grace. Shaming myself isn’t helpful or productive.
I need to recognize that these are extreme circumstances and that being kind to myself is hugely important if I want to stay positive and healthy.
So, when I fall short (and I do on a lot of days), I’m giving myself grace.
For instance, this morning, I got up early to work out even though I was really tired. I was slow to get started, so I only made it halfway through my workout before my kiddo woke up. I tried to keep the workout going once my family came downstairs to the living room, but by that point, my motivation had waned and I called it quits early.
Normally, I would beat myself up for this. But, I told myself that half of a workout is better than none at all.
I think that mindset is so important right now. We are all doing the best we can to cope through this really challenging time. We just need to recognize that’s enough.
We need to be kind to ourselves…
- When the laundry sits in a heap for a few days.
- When the work takes a little longer to complete than normal.
- When we hit the snooze button or don’t set an alarm at all.
- When we don’t exercise like we usually do.
- When we let our kids watch TV a little more than usual.
- When we binge watch TV more than usual.
- When the homework doesn’t get done.
- When we cook frozen pizza for dinner or indulge in ice cream.
- When we just need space to hide under the covers of our bed and cry.
My friend, Catie, who is my trainer and massage therapist, has a sign in her office that says “treat your body like it belongs to someone you love.”
I think, right now, that is fitting. Though, I would change it to say “treat yourself like you are someone you love.” I think in this time, we have to talk to ourselves like we would talk to our best friends.
Would we berate our friends for piles of dishes in the sink or a little too much screen time?
So, don’t do it to yourself.
It’s not easy. Believe me, I know. But, I encourage you to try.
4. Prioritize self care.
And finally, I’m working on prioritizing self care.
Although I’ve been getting better at this over the years, it’s still something I need to work on. After all, it’s pretty easy for me to revert back into the mode where I work endlessly until I hit a breaking point.
But, I know that’s not healthy––especially now.
So, that new normal needs to include some time to take care of myself. That means, exercising, sleeping well, making time to write and heck, even going for a drive or a walk by myself to get a break from my family. As much as I love them, I know that I need some space… and so do they. And so far, we’ve not had much of that.
On Saturday, I went for a walk/run by myself and it was so helpful for me. The weather was gorgeous and it was so wonderful to be moving and alone with my thoughts. This is something I definitely want to do more because it was just so life-giving.
Another thing that Garth and I are doing after listening to the wonderful advice from Brené Brown, is checking in to see how we are feeling on a daily basis. Brené recommended giving it a number. How are you doing from 0 to 100 percent?
Last week, being able to name that I was only operating at about 30-40 percent helped Garth better understand how I was feeling. And in that time, he helped pick up the slack with James and helped take care of the meals so I could recharge a bit.
That was what helped me see that I needed to make more space for self-care. If I wanted to get back to a place of feeling more healthy and whole, I needed to invest more time in taking care of myself.
To be honest, I think we need to prioritize self-care MORE now than we ever have. I realize that it might be harder to accomplish now, but I think being mindful of our need for this can go a long way to making sure it happens.
The New Normal is a Work in Process
I’m still working on what my new normal looks like, but I think that these four steps are a start for me.
These are unprecedented times. And I think we all need help in trying to navigate these uncharted waters. I don’t have all the answers, but hopefully, sharing what is helping me might be helpful for you too.
I’d love to hear from you and what’s working to help you stay healthy right now. You can drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can join us in our Facebook Group where we are regularly talking about these things.
A Quick Shout Out
I also want to give a shout out to a very special young listener in Kansas City, Missouri. Her name is Anna and she’s 12 years old. She might be the show’s biggest fan as she has listened to EVERY episode that I have published. I don’t even know if any of my family members have listened to every episode. So, she definitely wins the award for number one fan of Make it Brave!
Last week, I missed getting out a solo episode because life has been so chaotic as we adjust to this new normal. I am good friends with Anna’s mom and she shared with me that Anna has been praying for me because she knew that things have been hard, but she is eager for more episodes.
I can’t tell you how much this means. So, I dedicate this episode to Anna. And Anna, if you’re listening and I know that you are, I’m going to do my very best to keep giving you two episodes every single week. I think that you are a remarkable young woman! And the fact that you want to spend your time learning from some amazing people on how to be braver shows how mature you are and how you are shaping up to be an incredible young lady.
I just know that you are going to do some marvelous things in this world. And I cannot wait to see what God does in your life. So, keep it up, Anna. I’m rooting for you!
I look forward to being with you again soon. And just remember, whatever you do today friends, don’t forget to make it brave.
Another well thought out and heartfelt episode. Thanks!
Thanks so much!
Love your words, Laura! You have beautifully expressed exactly how I have been feeling lately. Thank you for writing the words that I have been afraid to put down for fear of making them real. It’s time to stop pushing away the emotional heaviness, anxiety and fear and “feel my feelings.” Blessings to you!
Thanks for the kind words, Karen. I’m so glad this was helpful to you. I’ll be honest––I’m STILL working through all of this and trying to process it. It’s a lot. And I think we have to acknowledge that. Hang in there!